hiding behind book

Dream On: Stressed Students at the End of DACA

Amethyst Hinton Sainz Current Affairs, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership

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Policies, local and national, shape our classroom practices, our instructional decisions and our interactions with students and colleagues.  

Sometimes, that connection is hard to see, especially when policies create a culture of silence which makes it difficult to track the impact on student learning or teacher decision-making. The climate surrounding immigration issues and undocumented students and families is one of those issues.  Over the past few months, stories of ICE raids, deportations of gainfully employed immigrants, travel bans, demands for a new border wall, the legal uncertainty surrounding whether undocumented students can qualify for in-state tuition,  and now, in early September, the announcement of the end of the DACA program, have woven themselves through the news cycles and through the hallways at school.

The culture of fear, silence and uncertainty surrounding students’ immigration status surely affects our ability to create safe and effective learning environments.

This week during fall break, I was invited by a colleague to visit the offices of our state senators along with the group, Aliento, and Arizona Education Association members. The groups were there to deliver a message regarding the importance of enacting a sensible and “clean” replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. I went to observe and learn more about the DREAM Act, but ended up with the opportunity to advocate for my students who are unable to advocate for themselves. While there, I learned about Valeria. This is an excerpt of the letter that was presented to our senators, telling her story (written by her teacher Rafael Vasquez):

There are countless stories in our classrooms like my student Valeria, a DACA recipient from Xavier College Preparatory who worries of what this [the end of DACA]means for her academic future and risk for deportation.

In December of 2001, Valeria crossed into Arizona through the Nogales border as an 8 month old in her mother’s arms. She has only known the United States, and Graciela, her mother, recalls her first word being “Hi.” I met Valeria in 2012 as a sixth grade student and knew from that moment that she was unlike any other child. Valeria, who is part of a mixed status family, fears that her parents would get deported before she attends college. Her parents have shaped her into the young lady of integrity that she is and have helped in the creation of her goals. She wants to make her community proud through being a first-generation college student and becoming an immigration attorney with her alma maters being Stanford University and Yale Law School respectively. Valeria’s greatest hope is to be a citizen of the United States and to not live in fear, rather to live feeling safe with a sense of stability. She has never met her older brother, Luis, but has created a bond only by telephone. She dreams of being able to hug her brother and play with her niece and two nephews. In addition, Valeria has many opportunities; Xavier College Preparatory hosts study abroad field trips to its students to places like Ireland, Ecuador, Germany and France. However, due to her immigration status, Valeria does not have the opportunity to participate in these programs, worried that she would not be able to return with her classmates. This is just one of the countless stories of the undocumented families that we serve as educators.

…. We as teachers of the various Arizonan communities fear that if we don’t get any legislation passed by the end of the year there will not be legislation in place before the March expiration date [for DACA] therefore making students like Valeria continue to live in limbo and at risk of deportation.

Stories like Valeria’s usually go untold. Occasionally, a student shares information about their own or a family member’s immigration status, but I don’t ask, and usually it is not something they talk about. However, even if most of my English Language Development students are documented and here legally (and many of them were actually born here), their parents or other family members may be losing their opportunity to stay in the United States. I can only imagine the stress within a family with some members facing potential deportation when DACA ends. And chronic stress is not good for learning.

One thing to note is that despite so many recent moves that create fear in these students and families, the majority of Americans believe that the Dreamers should have a legal way to stay in the United States.  Perhaps, this is why bipartisan support for the DREAM Act is building.

My hope is that our leaders can come together and agree on a plan that supports our students and their families, a plan unburdened by further actions that create a climate of fear and mistrust. Dreamers are an integral part of our communities, our economy, and the American Dream.  




Amethyst Hinton Sainz is National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts, and is constantly trying to live up to that standard! This year she will begin teaching at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona as an interventionist. She has taught junior high ELD and high school English in Arizona for 25 years. She has been a Stories from School blogger since 2012. Amethyst’s alma maters are Blue Ridge High School, the University of Arizona and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led her toward the College of Education, and she soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel her throughout her career. Her love of language, literature, and culture led her to Bread Loaf for her master's in English Literature. She is a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for her. As a board member of the Mesa NBCT Network, she works with other NBCT’s to promote this powerful process throughout the district. She supports candidates for National Board Certification, and loves seeing teachers realize and articulate their teaching and leadership power! She enjoys teaching students across the spectrum of academic abilities, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education. Last year she had the privilege of running our school garden, and will really miss that this year. She is currently learning more about social and racial justice and is striving to be an antiracist educator. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her family. She enjoys time with them, as well as with her vegetable garden, backyard chickens, and the two dogs. She also enjoys reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), kayaking, camping, and travel, among other things.

Comments 4

  1. Sandy Merz

    It’s so annoying that in the current environment it’s by no means obvious that elected lawmakers will use the legislative process to write a humanitarian law that would have bipartisan support from the governed.

  2. Leah Clark

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I have students who are undocumented and truly stressed out about their families and themselves possibility of deportation. I try to remind them that they are safe at school and not to worry. I try to show them love and compassion.

  3. Mike Vargas

    I have witnessed first hand what a broken family of deportation can do to a family and its kids. Its pretty traumatic and horrific. It is my sincere hope that the folks in charge come up with a solution that has compassion and is equitable. I am all for kicking out the lawbreakers, but the people that contribute should be looked upon as assets, not disposable.

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